Thematic Recs: Graphic Novels

Well, it seems like I end up saying this every time I do a new Thematic Recs post, but… it’s been a while since the last time I did a Thematic Recs post! 😉 This time I wanted to share some of my favourite graphic novels with you all.

There are plenty of comics that I love, too (and I expect I’ll be doing a post on them at some point as well), but they’re often very interconnected, and their quality often fluctuates with their creative teams, so they can be difficult to recommend… So for now I’ve decided to stick to graphic novels (i.e. non-serialised publications) as well as a couple of limited-series comics (i.e. comics with a pre-determined number of issues), as their stories tend to be more self-contained than other comics. But enough rambling, and onto the recommendations!

[An aside: I just realised that three out of five of these are blatantly about death, even without going into spoiler territory (which might reveal that they’re all about death! Or not. 😛 ). What that says about my taste, I’m not certain. ^^’ ]

1) The Encyclopedia of Early Earth by Isbel Greenberg. A wonderful story about a storyteller who’s travelling the world in order to find the missing piece of his soul, and telling all kinds of stories to the people he meets along the way. Greenberg’s art style is really cute, and complements the folk-tale feel of her writing perfectly; I stumbled upon this book two years ago, and it’s probably my favourite graphic novel of all time.

2) The River of Lost Souls by Isabel Greenberg. Another Greenberg story, written in a very similar style, though this one is only a few pages long, and was never officially released. It tells the story of a young woman who follows her father into the afterlife, and ends up meeting – and marrying – Charon, the ferryman of souls. I’d actually be quick to recommend any of Greenberg’s work, but this, and The Encyclopedia of Early Earth are probably my favourites.

3) Pride of Baghdad by Brian K. Vaughan. A single-volume limited series that’s set in Baghdad in the aftermath of an American bomb raid, and follows a pride of lions that escaped from the zoo. Beautifully illustrated, and incredibly moving, and apparently inspired by a real pride! Vaughan’s Saga series has become really well known in the last couple of years, but Pride of Baghdad is every bit as excellent.

4) Death: The High Cost of Living by Neil Gaiman. This is a spin-off from the Sandman series, but I’m recommending it here anyway because it’s a completely self-contained story, as well as a fantastic one. The personification of Death must live as a mortal for one day in every century, and this time, she’s spending her time exploring New York with her new friend Sexton – who’s pretty sure she’s crazy. The Sandman has some really great spin-offs, and The High Cost of Living is definitely one of the best.

5) The Undertaking of Lily Chen by Danica Novgorodoff. A strange tale about a young man called Deshi who is tasked with finding a bride for his deceased brother (apparently an old tradition in Northern China). The story is both haunting and incredibly intriguing, and is accompanied by some really amazing watercolour illustrations. I wasn’t the biggest fan of the character design, but that’s a very minor complaint, considering everything else about this fantastic book.

Fairytale Features: Beauty & the Beast

fairytale features

The tale of Beauty & the Beast (originally called La Belle et la Bête) is probably familiar to most people: One night, a merchant gets lost in a forest during a terrible storm, and finds shelter in a great palace, where he is offered food and drink and a warm place to sleep. The next morning, on his way out, he picks a flower for his daughter, Beauty – only to be set upon by a terrifying Beast, who accuses the merchant of stealing his most precious possession. The merchant is allowed to leave, but only after promising that he will send his daughter to the palace instead. Over time, Beauty ends up falling in love with the Beast, and through her love, the curse that had transformed him into a monster is broken.

This story was originally written in 1740 by the French author Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot de Villeneuve, and was influence by many different stories, including Cupid & Psyche (Apuleius; late 2nd century A.D.) and the Italian fairytale The Pig King (Giovanni Francesco Straparola; c. 1550-53), and may also have been partially inspired by the life of Petrus Gonsalvus (1537-1618), a Spanish man who became famous during his lifetime because he suffered from hypertrichosis, which made him abnormally hairy.

A more complete list of adaptations and retellings of this story can be found here, but these are a few of my favourites:

RECOMMENDATIONS

Robin McKinley//BeautyBeauty by Robin McKinley is a straight-up retelling of the original fairytale – by which I mean that the plot deviates very little from Villeneuve’s original story, though naturally both Beauty and the Beast are considerably more fleshed-out as individual characters. McKinley’s writing, however, is beautiful, and I really loved the slow, realistic relationship development in this book.

Christine Pope//Dragon RoseDragon Rose by Christine Pope is another reasonably straight-up retelling, but it’s also mixed with elements of legends such as St. George & the Dragon, where a maiden must be sacrificed every year in order to appease a terrible monster. In Dragon Rose, Rhianne (i.e. Beauty) offers herself up in the place of her friend, and is sent off to become the latest in a long, long line of brides to the cursed Dragon Lord, none of whom have ever been seen again after setting foot in his castle. Pope’s writing is not the best I’ve ever read, but I enjoyed the unpretentious nature of this story, as well as the way it played with the princess-and-the-dragon trope. It’s actually the second book in the Tales of the Latter Kingdoms series (many of which are fairytale retellings), but all the books in this series can be read as standalones.

Andrzej Sapkowski//The Last WishA Grain of Truth by Andrzej Sapkowski is a short story from The Last Wish (which is, in turn, part of the Witcher series), and manages to completely turn the tale of Beauty & the Beast on its head: Women come to the Beast willingly, enjoying their chance to flirt with danger, while their families are given a generous payment – and after a time, they leave. The Beast, for his part, is not particularly interested in breaking the curse that makes him a monster, as he fears that companions will be harder to find if he becomes less of a curiosity. Beautifully written, and fascinatingly re-imagined, this is probably one of my favourite re-tellings of this fairytale.

Rosamund Hodge//Cruel BeautyCruel Beauty by Rosamund Hodge imagines Beauty (this time called Nyx) as a young woman who – promised to the Beast (Ignifex, the kingdom’s evil and immortal ruler) at birth due to a bargain struck by her father – has been raised as an assassin, trained to kill Ignifex, and break the curse he’s held over the kingdom for the last 900 years. This was a fast-paced, exciting retelling, with a dark bent to it that I really enjoyed. Hodge also managed to blend the tale of Beauty & the Beast seamlessly with a whole load of Greek mythology – something that really appealed to the Classicist in me!

Sarah J. Maas//A Court of Thorns & RosesAnd of course, I couldn’t possibly leave out A Court of Thorns & Roses by Sarah J. Maas – the book which pushed me to start writing this post (at long last)! In this book, the Beast (a.k.a. Tamlin) is a High Lord of Prythian, the kingdom of faeries, and “Beauty” (this time called Feyre) is a human huntress, struggling to support her impoverished family after her merchant father lost everything. One day, while hunting, she kills a Fae disguised as a wolf – but although she expects to be killed as punishment, instead she’s taken away to the Spring Court, where the High Lord is labouring under a terrible curse… and running out of time to break it.

There’s a lot going on in this series beyond the retelling that it starts with; in the second book, it breaks away from the fairytale almost entirely. The more epic tone of the story – the intrigue and politics and the looming threat of war – is the main thing that sets this apart from other retellings, and is probably its main selling point, but its also unusual in that it has a considerable cast of (well-developed) characters beyond Feyre and Tamlin, all with significant roles to play. [You can find my spoiler-free reviews of A Court of Thorns & Roses, and A Court of Mist & Fury here.]

[Navigation: INTRODUCTION | BEAUTY & THE BEAST | (More to come)]

Fairytale Features

INTRODUCTION

So, I finally got round to reading A Court of Mist & Fury (I haven’t finished, though, so no spoilers please), after putting it off for over eight months because I was so annoyed about Queen of Shadows (the then-most-recent entry in Maas’ other series of books). And I’m really enjoying it! 😀 The reason I’m mentioning it here, however? As you probably know, if you’re at all familiar with the series, A Court of Thorns & Roses is a (much expanded upon) retelling of Beauty & the Beast, the traditional French fairytale.

Fairytale retellings (sometimes called fairytale fantasy, or mythic fiction) seem to have become increasingly popular over the last few years, and there have been all kinds of them written – straight-up retellings, with almost no significant changes to the versions we’re all familiar with; retellings that draw on the (often quite dark) original stories that most people have forgotten (thank you, Disney 😉 );  and even wildly re-imagined tales like The Lunar Chronicles, a.k.a. Cinderella-in-space. There have been retellings of really familiar stories like the aforementioned Cinderella and Beauty & the Beast, as well as more obscure ones, such as The Goose Girl, and the legend of Tam Lin.

In this series of posts (which will be updated sporadically), I aim to talk a little about the origins of various fairytales, and to recommend a few books that retell the story in various different ways. Naturally, I will be starting with Beauty & the Beast, since there doesn’t seem like a better time to discuss it, and I’m aiming to have that posted pretty early next month. I hope you’ll enjoy it! 😀

[Navigation: INTRODUCTION | BEAUTY & THE BEAST | (More to come)]

Disclaimer: I am not an expert on any of these fairytales, or on retellings generally; just someone who enjoys reading them. If you notice any mistakes, then please feel free to point them out.

Thematic Recs: Short Stories & Novellas

The end of the year is coming up quickly now, and I’m sure that many people – like me – are seriously behind on their overambitious Goodreads reading challenges. But fear not! I’m here to help, with some recommendations for really short, but still fantastic books for you to read! 😉 Obviously, not finishing your Goodreads (or equivalent) challenge isn’t the worst thing that could happen in a year (and I know I won’t finish mine, even if I read nothing but short stories from now until New Year), but seeing that shiny “COMPLETED” label always gives me a small sense of achievement. 😀

Yuri Herrera//Signs Preceding the End of the World1) Signs Preceding the End of the World by Yuri Herrera. This most recent novella that I read is a thought-provoking story about a young woman crossing the border illegally from Mexico to the US in order to find her brother, an illegal immigrant, and pass on a message from their mother. Despite its length, this is one of the most powerful books I’ve read in a while, and because I picked it up as part of the Library Scavenger Hunt, I’ve also posted a review – you can find it here. 🙂

Brandon Sanderson//Perfect State2) Perfect State by Brandon Sanderson. The tale of a man who has become the God-Emperor of his people, but is forced by the mysterious Wode to choose a partner and procreate. The woman he ends up choosing is at the very bottom of his compatibility list – a women’s rights activist – and the personality clash when they meet makes for a fascinating read. Additionally, this is another story that I’ve reviewed, as I read it during Booktubeathon this summer.

Rainbow Rowell//Kindred Spirits3) Kindred Spirits by Rainbow Rowell. A World Book Day 2016 story about a small group of strangers waiting in the overnight queue to see Star Wars on its release day. It’s simultaneously adorable and hilarious, and I only wish there was some way that I could read more about these characters. 😀

Ursula K. Le Guin//A Fisherman of the Inland Sea4) Another Story OR A Fisherman of the Inland Sea by Ursula K. Le Guin. Rather on the longer side for a short story, this tale blends science, mythology and emotional drama in a way that pulled at all my heartstrings, and tells the story of a young man leaving for university on a planet far away from his own, and the difficulties he faces in keeping in touch over such long distances. I don’t think that this book is available on its own, but it can be found in both Le Guin’s A Fisherman of the Inland Sea anthology, as well as the massive time-travel compilation, The Time-Traveller’s Almanac (volume 1, for the curious). It’s also part of the Hainish Cycle, but it can be read individually.

Antoine de Saint Exupéry//The Little Prince5) The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. Last but by no means least is The Little Prince, a novella that I’m sure you’ve all at least heard of about a pilot who crash lands in the desert, and there meets a little boy who claims to have come from an asteroid. Beautiful, poignant and touching, this story is known as a classic for a very good reason, and I only appreciate it more every time I re-read it. As a side-note, I watched the film adaptation of this recently, and it’s also fantastic; you should definitely check it out if you have access to a Netflix account.

Thematic Recs: Interesting Magic Systems

In most fantasy novels that I’ve read (and I’ve read quite a lot of them), performing magic is a matter of waving a wand and saying some words, or concentrating very hard on your desired outcome; consistent actions, and (mostly) consistent results. Which is great – all magic is awesome magic! 😀 Every now and then, though, I come across a book with a really interesting, inventive magic system, unlike anything I’ve seen before. And exploring these kinds of magic – learning their uses and limitations, and seeing how the characters put them into practice – is one of my favourite things to do. 🙂 The magic systems in these books/series are some of my recent favourites, so I hope you like them, too!

Rainbow Rowell//Carry On1) Carry On by Rainbow Rowell. Though heavily influenced by Harry Potter and its fandom, the magic is one thing in Carry On that’s entirely unique, and was one of the best things about this (already fantastic) novel. Spells in this world are popular phrases, and are given power by how well-known they are. So, for example, “some like it hot” can be used as a warming spell, but if people stopped using the phrase, then the spell would become less and less effective. It’s mentioned a few times that song lyrics don’t make very good spells (with a few exceptions) for this very reason; they enter and leave popular culture too quickly. Nursery rhymes, on the other hand, apparently make great ones, as people are never really able to forget them… There’s a really epic scene near the middle of the book, where Baz uses “Ladybird, ladybird, fly away home” on a dragon. 😛

Brandon Sanderson//The Final Empire2) The Mistborn trilogy by Brandon Sanderson. The magic in this book is called Allomancy, and those who use it are Allomancers, their powers drawn from different kinds of metals, and their alloys (hence the name). Iron and steel push and pull (respectively) on nearby metal objects; tin and pewter enhance the users’ senses or physical abilities; brass can be used to calm emotions, while zinc enflames them; and bronze is used to locate nearby Allomancy, while copper hides it. Allomancers can generally only use one type of metal, but there are a few select people, called the Mistborn, who are able to use them all. Each power seems quite limited in potential, but the way that Sanderson incorporates them into the story is pure genius, and he writes some of the best magical action scenes I’ve ever had the pleasure of reading.

Peter V. Brett//The Painted Man3) The Demon Cycle series by Peter V. Brett. I have a love-hate relationship with this series, because it’s really great, but horrible things keep happening to all my favourite characters… 😥 The magic system, though, is based on wards – runic images painted onto any surface available, which do things like create barriers, or turn a demon’s fire into wind – and only have an effect on demons (which is convenient, since the Thesa is beset by them). Runic magic in itself isn’t all that unusual in fantasy, but what sets The Demon Cycle apart is this interesting detail: The wards are all powered by the demons themselves; the more the demons fight against them, the more power the wards will be able to draw on, and the stronger their magic will become.

Garth Nix//Sabriel4) The Old Kingdom series by Garth Nix. This series uses another runic system called Charter magic, but there are actually several different schools of magic in The Old Kingdom series. When I first read it, I was particularly enamoured of the Clayr, a group of sorceresses who can see into the future, but the kind of magic that’s most important to the series is that of the Abhorsen – a hereditary title belonging to Sabriel’s family, which marks them as necromancers. Main characters who are necromancers are incredibly hard to come by, in my experience, but the way that Sabriel uses her powers is a little different from most portrayals of necromancy – she uses a selection of bells, each with a different purpose (one to call the dead, one to banish them, one to bind them, etc.). In the second book, another character is introduced who’s also able to channel her power through a mirror, which is just as unusual as the bells.

Genevieve Cogman//The Invisible Library5) The Invisible Library series by Genevieve Cogman. This last series is one of my most recent discoveries: I’ve only read the first book so far, but I think I’ve just about got a handle on the magic that Irene uses (which, again, is not the only form of magic in the book, just the most interesting). It’s called the Language, and can only be used by Librarians of the mysterious Invisible Library, of which Irene – our heroine – is one. Instead of casting standardised spells, Irene is able to use the Language to instruct the world around her to alter itself (for instance by telling a lock to open), and – so long as she’s worded her order correctly – the world will obey her. It’s incredibly open to interpretation (she has to choose her words very carefully), and constantly evolving, and she receives new updates on the Language whenever she returns to the Library from a mission. Interestingly, she also tells us a few times that the Language doesn’t work so well when ordering objects to do things that are against their nature. For example, she very easily manages to tell a collection of enchanted gargoyles to stop moving, since stone is naturally still; it would have been much harder for her to make them move in the first place (had they not been enchanted), and the spell would have worn off much more quickly.

Books you should be reading if you love Game of Thrones!

So, the new series of Game of Thrones is finally here! No spoilers, please; I’m not up-to-date with the show at all. ^^’ I am, however, all caught up on the books, and (not-so-patiently) awaiting the next one… Waiting is hard. 😦 But I’ve got you covered! With luck, these excellent series will be enough to tide you over until The Winds of Winter is released!

Peter V. Brett//The Painted Man1) The Demon Cycle series by Peter V. Brett. A seemingly quite traditional fantasy series, which follows a small group of protagonists living in a world that’s beset by demons which come up from the Core every night. This series only gets more complex as it goes on, however, introducing several new conflicts in the later books, and sympathetic (as well as despicable) characters on every side. This series made my heart so confused.

Mark Lawrence//Prince of Thorns2) The Broken Empire series by Mark Lawrence. If you like dark fantasy, then this series is perfect for you, as it’s one of the darkest things I’ve ever read. It follows a largely amoral prince, aiming to avenge the death of his mother and brother, and to become king, but prone to looting and pillaging, and murder and rape – a terrifying (but perfect) mix of Robb Stark and Ramsay Bolton that I wouldn’t have thought was even possible before reading this…

Rae Carson//Fire and Thorns3) The Fire & Thorns trilogy by Rae Carson. Another fantasy series, but this time following a young, insecure princess called Elisa who’s sent away from her home against her will, in order to marry the ruler of a neighbouring kingdom. The story puts a lot of emphasis on religion – as Elisa was born with something called a Godstone, which marks her for an important religious duty – and her struggle to adapt to her new home, and her responsibility towards it, but the reason I think it will appeal to Game of Thrones fans is because of Elisa’s incredible growth as a character, which was very reminiscent of Danaerys Targaryen (and, to a lesser extent, Sansa Stark) in the first couple of A Song of Ice & Fire books.

Sally Green//Half Bad4) The Half Life trilogy by Sally Green. A dark fantasy series set in a world where there are “good” White Witches and “evil” Black Witches, who live isolated from one another, and despise each other. Nathan, the main character in these books, has been raised by his mother’s White family, but is an outcast in White society, as his father is one of the most notorious Black Witches around. I’m kind of obsessed with this series at the moment, but the main reason I’m adding it to this list is that Sally Green is not at all afraid to make her characters suffer.

5) Philippa Gregory//The White QueenThe Cousins’ War series by Philippa Gregory. This last recommendation is blind, as I haven’t read the books… I have seen the BBC adaptation of the first book, which was really well done (and made me feel a lot of the same things as Game of Thrones). But I’m mainly recommending this series – which is a novelisation of the War of the Roses – is because this time period was a major inspiration for the events in A Song of Ice & Fire.

[An aside: You know how, since Game of Thrones became popular, almost every fantasy book that’s come out has had the tagline “Perfect for fans of Game of Thrones!”, or words to that effect? And then they all turn out to be nothing like it, or only like it in some incredibly superficial way? (I’m looking at you, Falling Kingdoms.) I can’t be the only person bothered by this, right? :/ Well anyway, I hope I’ve done a little better in that respect.]

Thematic Recs: Arthurian Mythology

My current read, The Table of Less Valued Knights, is on one of my favourite topics: King Arthur! (Or the stories of him, at least.) And it’s very enjoyable, but I keep getting distracted by Mass Effect life, so I haven’t been making the progress I was hoping for… (& the readathon I picked it up for is already over 😳 ). So, I thought I’d spur myself on a little bit! And what better way than to share some of my absolute favourite Arturian stories? 😀 In no particular order, I present…

Susan Cooper//The Grey King1) The Dark is Rising sequence by Susan Cooper. A boy called Will finds out on his eleventh birthday that he’s an Old One, charged with defending the world against the Dark. King Arthur doesn’t really come into the series until book three, The Grey King (which is my favourite), but it’s definitely worth waiting for! This is the series that sparked my love for Arthurian mythology~ ❤

T.H. White//The Once & Future King2) The Once & Future King series by T.H. White. The ultimate (in my opinion) tale of King Arthur’s life, from his childhood to his death. Beautifully written, though the style is – naturally – somewhat old-fashioned, and with one of the most interesting portrayals of Merlin that I’ve ever come across.

Kevin Crossley-Holland//The Seeing Stone3) The Arthur trilogy by Kevin Crossley-Holland. A surprising and fresh take on the Arthurian myths… A young boy called Arthur is one day given a seeing stone, which shows him visions of another Arthur, who is destined to be king. I read these books quite a few years ago, but they’ve really stuck with me. 🙂

Marie Phillips//The Table of Less Valued Knights4) The Table of Less Valued Knights by Marie Phillips. And last but not least, the book that inspired this list! 😀 The Table of Less Valued Knights is made up of those knights who’ve been kicked off the Round Table, for old age, infirmity, or cowardice. As I mentioned, I’m not that far into it yet, but what I’ve read so far has been fun, and very witty.